Washington Wizards again banking on Garrett Temple’s versatility

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post - Garrett Temple averaged just 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and one steal last season. But his ability to play multiple positions is seen as crucial.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the first time since going undrafted out of LSU in 2009, Garrett Temple enters a season without the pressure of having to prove that he deserves to make an NBA team. Temple finally received the commitment that he long sought in July, when the Washington Wizards rewarded him with a one-year guaranteed contract.

But when he arrived in Washington last month before training camp, Temple walked around town needing to prove that he wasn’t somebody else. Fans, and especially children, would stop him on the street and greet him with, “Hey, Otto.”

Contrails from jet planes passing overhead intersect the National Museum of Art in Washington, Thursday morning, April 17, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Photos of the day

Scenes from Holy Week events, South Korean ferry search efforts, macaw conservation and more.

“I’d politely say: ‘I’m not Otto Porter. My name is Garrett Temple,’ ” Temple said. “Otto is a nice guy, quiet guy, and we have similarities. We’re both slim. He’s a bit taller than me. We’re both fair-skinned. And they think we look alike. I don’t see it.”

Porter, the team’s first-round draft pick, has yet to play or even practice for the Wizards as he recovers from a right hip flexor injury. Coach Randy Wittman has no problem distinguishing the two and is also well aware of what he can expect from Temple.

Plucked from the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League last Christmas to serve as one of the handful of point guard replacements for the injured John Wall, Temple finished the season as a fill-in for the injured Bradley Beal.

Though Temple produced relatively pedestrian numbers — 5.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game — the 6-foot-6 swingman became one of Wittman’s favorites because of his defensive versatility and willingness to accept any assignment.

“He’s like a great utility player in baseball,” Wittman said of Temple, who started 36 games last season, sixth most on the team. “I want guys who are very versatile in what they do. It gives you different options in the course of the game, gives you different options when you have injuries.”

Temple’s presence on the court also seemed to make a difference for the Wizards, with his ability to defer and let others shine while he did the dirty work. Nevertheless, his role is set to be markedly diminished after averaging 22.7 minutes last season.

Wall and Beal are both back and healthy. Eric Maynor was signed as Wall’s primary backup. Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and Porter — whenever he gets healthy — will get the bulk of the time at small forward. But Temple still believes that there will be enough opportunities for him to contribute.

“Honestly, I think it’s going to be ever-changing,” Temple said of his role this season. “I’m going to be that guy to be counted on, that can defend and run the team if need be, play [shooting guard] if need be. Be a guy that will be professional at all times.”

Wittman didn’t use Temple in the Wizards’ preseason loss to the Chicago Bulls in Brazil on Saturday but gave him 17 minutes, mostly at point guard, in the next game, a victory over Miami — the last NBA team to cut him. Temple sat out Thursday’s loss to New York after getting cut on his elbow and developing an infection, but Wittman expects him to be available when the Wizards play the New Orleans Pelicans at the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena on Saturday night.

With Wall expected to lead a fast-paced, wide-open offense, the Wizards have made it a priority to surround the speedy point guard with more shooters. Temple spent most of this summer focusing on his perimeter shooting so that he could be on the receiving end of a few passes in the corners.

“I do feel confident in my shots. I feel comfortable in the spots that I’m going to get shots,” Temple said.

Last season, Temple shot just 32.5 percent from three-point range, but he connected on 41.1 percent (21 of 51) in the last two months of the regular season.

Temple had developed a reputation for being a shooter in the D-League, where he made 39.2 percent of his three-point attempts. While representing the Wizards in a three-point shooting contest in Rio de Janeiro, Temple emerged victorious and brought his towel-waving teammates to their feet.

Whether he’s setting up teammates or waiting for some open looks, Temple is ready. “I’ve been playing multiple positions, basically, my entire career. Since high school and college, and I pride myself on being versatile,” said Temple, 27. “Whatever the coach needs me to do, I’m going to be ready. It’s not that tough. It’s all about the feel for the game, and I’ve been playing this game my whole life.”

 
Read what others are saying